Based on her book Sharing God's Big Love With Little Lives, Jean Thomason discusses the importance of "imprinting" God's love and promises on young children, and why parents need to be very intentional about modeling faith and worship in their families.
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John Fuller: We asked some very small children what it means to worship a very big God.
Child #1: I like to worship God ‘cause He loves us.
Child #2: I know what worship means.
Dad: Oh? What does it mean?
Child #2: I think it means helping other people that has no water.
Mom: Why do we worship God?
Child #3: Hm…so the rocks don’t have to do it.
Child #4: And it’s so amazing how He can change our hearts.
Child #5: There is another way you can worship.
Mom: What is that?
Child #5: By reading the Bible, dancing, singing, and giving money.
Child #6: God loves us no matter what.
End of Teaser
John: Oh, those are delightful comments. And we’re gonna hear about how you can foster in your child a heart for God and understanding of His love. And we’re really going to kind of laser-focus on very small kids. Our host for today’s episode of Focus on the Family is Focus president and author Jim Daly. And I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, those are great comments. And I love hearing those little voices, I mean, just their honest hearts and the way they want to please God. I mean I wish we could bottle that and save it right through adulthood. And that’s probably the point here. We need to be more like children. I think Jesus said that.
The fact is, you know, many of us parents have kind of fallen down a bit when it comes to training our children in spiritual ways. And we want to help equip you to do that better today. If you’re the mom and dad of little ones - 1-, 2-, 3-, 4-, 5-years-old - this is for you. And if you are a grandparent, you want to listen along with us because I think you will want a copy of our guest’s book and to be able to apply some of these principles we’re going to hear about today.
John: Yeah, a lot of folks think spiritual training is dropping my child off at Sunday school. Or um...
Jim: That’s true.
John: Or something else.
Jim: And that’s good!
John: It is. And we - we applaud those who work with kids. But in the home the parent has to be so intentional. There’s so many influences.
And we have a special guest with us who has a track record for helping children understand the Gospel. And she has reached hundreds of thousands of toddlers and preschoolers with the good news of Christ. Jean Thomason is with us. She’s a musical performer, a worship leader, an author and conference speaker. And for more than 20 years, she’s been a special friend to young children, teaching them stories and silly songs along the way about God’s Word and His love as expressed in Jesus. And Jean has a book that we’re going to hear more about today later on called.
Jim: Jean, welcome to Focus on the Family.
Jean Thomason: Thank you. I’m thrilled to be here. Thanks so much.
Jim: We’re going to go through that unique way that God has placed us on your heart, kind of a different approach to getting into youth ministry, I think. But when you look at it, why do you believe it’s so critical that we reach and share the gospel with small children? A lot of parents - we’re busy. We’re thinking, “Okay, about 5 years old we’re probably going to connect with them. And they can now begin to understand the concepts of God.” But you’re working mostly with 5 and under.
Jean: I am.
Jim: Why is that so critical?
Jean: Absolutely. That is such a great question. And I think the very - the first thing to tell you is that you cannot start too soon. You know, the Bible says John the Baptist was filled with the spirit in the womb and um, and when - when Mary, pregnant with Jesus, walked into the area.
Um…my favorite place to dig into this is 2 Timothy 3:15. This is where Paul is talking to Timothy. And he’s reminding Timothy who he is. And he said, Timothy, don’t forget this: from infancy, you have known the Holy Scriptures. And that gave you the wisdom which led to salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord. Now I looked at that word infancy in my Strong’s Concordance and infancy actually means from birth until the time you’re weaned. And so those are those very early, early times. From infancy, the scriptures had been poured into little Timothy, baby Timothy.
And the Bible tells us that the Word of God is living. It’s active. It’s alive. It’s always working. So when we pour into little lives, even before their minds, all the synapses in their brains are connected, we are giving them what they will ultimately need. I call it spiritual formation. That’s laying the foundation so that salvation and then what we call sanctification, spiritual growth, is built on that foundation. So we have to get the Word of God into them early, early, early, early...
Jim: There you go. That’s the end of the program!
Jim: You have really hit the nail on the head. I mean, and I can see that enthusiasm. Now we go from Timothy - very spiritual - to Jell-O.
Jean: To Jell-O.
Jim: You talked about Jell-O in your book. How does an analogy about Jell-O connect to spiritual things?
Jean: I’ll never forget a day - I lived in Mobile, Alabama - and I had two small children, they’re only 14 months apart. And so all the mothers were going, ugh.
Jim: Lots of Jell-O.
Jean: I did. And often we went to the mall just to walk around. That was our field trip. And I was the mom who was like, look over there. What color do you see? Look at that. What is that? So we were walking in the mall that day. And there was a big sign in the middle of the mall there, and this is what it said: A child’s mind is like Jell-O. It actually said gelatin because I think Jell-O is trademarked. A child’s mind is like Jell-O. The idea is put the good things in before it sets.
Jean: And I thought, oh, that’s brilliant. I got to grab that and hang onto it. Put the good things in before it sets. Fast forward to my doing research on the way our brains operate and how God makes us for synapses to begin to connect. The research and scientific research tells us that at age 2 already more synapses have connected in the brain than the rest of our whole lives. That’s how fast we grow. And already children are making moral decisions, their boundaries. They’re figuring out who they are and what they can get away with, as we - most mothers and fathers know about our 2-year-olds. But past that, by the time a child is 6-years-old, their personality and character is almost completely and fully in place. So putting those good things in before they set means age 6 and under scientifically speaking.
Jim: That is powerful. I hope people caught that. I mean, so much of your formation as a human being is occurring in those single-digit years. I remember talking to Chuck Colson about moral fiber. And he said by 10 - the studies that he had read - I’ve seen them as well. But the studies that we look at, it shows by about 10 years old, their moral compass, their North Star, is pretty well set.
Jean: Oh, absolutely.
Jim: Then it’s boundaries from there on. It’s parental boundaries, how to help them connect to those moral principles that they know.
Jean: St. Ignatius said in the 1500s, “Give me a child until he is 7, and I will show you the man.”
Jean: Seven, and I think the most powerful statistic that I have hold of in my life - and what I use all the time encouraging people and in ministry to little children and parents and the way they deal with their children is this. And this is from the Barna Research Institute. And this is a few years old. And here’s what they say. Eighty-five percent of all of us - all of us who call Jesus lord, who say that we’re Christians and followers of the Lord Jesus - 85 percent of us came to faith in Christ Jesus by the time we were only 8 years old.
Jim: That’s right.
Jean: Eight years old.
Jim: And it’s happening in so many different ways. My wife came through the Good News Club in the school. And that’s an awesome effort. And I applaud all of those. You also mentioned in your wonderful book, 1 Chronicles, and you attach this idea of being aware and being a good parent with the men of Issachar...
Jean: Yes. Yes.
Jim: So help me. I always use, you know, the men of Issachar in terms of understanding the times and all that in a more of a social context, a political context.
Jim: How do you apply that to parenting context?
Jean: That’s so great because here’s what 1 Chronicles chapter 12 verse 32 says: “The men of Issachar were wise because they understood the times. They acted accordingly. They knew what the people of God should do.” I actually today, right here, I wore - I have a clock around my neck.
John: I noticed that.
Jean: You can hear at jangling in the mic. And the reason I do is to remind me to be aware of the times. And you know so well because - and I’m a recipient of and a student of the ministry of Focus on the Family. You always help people be aware of what’s going on in our culture, politically, socially, all those things. We as parents and grandparents, we - we need to know, understand the times in our culture and know what our children are facing, know what’s going on, what kind of media are they watching. What are they listening to?
We need to be so aware of the times. We need to know how to act accordingly and how we have to give them the good news of the big love of God because I know if we do not tell our children everything God is someone else will tell them everything he is not. And that is what’s so important in our culture.
Jim: Well, so true. I think we’ve made a good case as to why parents need to be mindful about this and start engaging quickly...
Jim: ...You know, right with your early firstborn child, right? Year one, make sure you have a plan on how to help them learn how to praise the Lord, etc.
Now, you didn’t set out to be a children’s champion here in the spiritual context. You were headed toward bigger dreams. I mean, you wanted to be on the big stage. And you’d be in the entertainment industry in some way. Describe that desire and then how the Lord kind of moved you in a different direction.
Jean: I will. Funny - I’m a classically trained opera singer.
Jim: Are you really?
Jean: I am. And I did musical theater for a lot of years. I grew up in church. I’m so grateful for that. And I went through choirs. And I had wonderful people who loved me as a child in children’s ministry and amazing parents who took me to church. Thanks be to God for that. And then I got to college. And I was really gripped by the ministry of actually Campus Crusade in my life and other things. And my focus changed. And this is what happened to me. I don’t know if this has happened to you. But I had this particular verse of scripture that God just seemed to plaster everywhere I went. People would say I feel led to tell you this verse.
Jim: It’s everywhere.
Jean: And it leapt off the page. And this is where it is Psalm chapter 40 verse 3. It says this: “He - God - has put a new song in my mouth. And it is a song of praise up to God. And many will see and be amazed and trust the Lord.” And I said, “A new song of praise? Okay. All right, God. Is this what - if this is you, tell me what this means. And I went back to my personal roots at a very conservative Baptist church. And I thought, “What is praise?”
And fortunately for me I’m a student of hymns and all kinds of songs. But I went to a conservative church where we sang the Hallelujah from the Mount of Olives by Beethoven and Mendelssohn. And, you know, Handel - we sang all that sort of things. But I knew the doxology well, as you know. And that’s straight out of Psalm 150 - just all that praise. And I began to study what the Bible has to say about praise. And I discovered that it’s all kind of fun and energy, that praising God is always, always a verb. It’s always something we choose to do. And it employs, or it calls us to employ both - not just both but many things - singing, clapping, dancing, shouting, kneeling, bowing. All this - it’s a diet that God gives us...
Jim: Now, you’re treading on some serious ground here...
...being a Baptist.
Jean: ...Oh, but you know what’s fun about that is all the Baptist people that I know know the Word of God and love the word of God and the fun...
Jim: And I’m not picking on them, obviously.
Jean: No, no, no.
Jim: But these are divisive issues, too. I’m not sure why, you know, we can’t praise the Lord in all kinds of ways, really, and respect that.
Jean: ...Oh, yes. And we - well, you know what I think? You know the word says our people perish for a lack of knowledge? And what I - what happened to me was I began to study and dig into what does the Bible have to say about these things. And I discovered that our word praise is translated from more than 50 different words in Hebrew. And...
Jim: Wow. More than 50?
Jean: ...More than 50. And seven of them mean seven very distinctive things. Halal...
Jim: Give us some examples.
Jean: ...Okay. Halal, the very first word, from which we get our word, you know …
Jean: …Hallelujah. Halal means this - ready? To be clear, to shine, to boast, to rave, to laud, to celebrate, to leap, to dance, to be full of joy. In fact, halal has the concept of praising God to the point we become clamorously foolish with reckless abandon.
Jim: I like that.
John: Oh, my.
Jean: That is hallelujah. And every time you see praise the Lord with an exclamation point all through the Psalms and other places, that is halal, which gives us permission to be excited about what God has done for us through the Lord Jesus.
John: Well, what a contagious enthusiasm you have, Jean. We’re talking to Jean Thomason today on Focus on the Family. And we’re going to encourage you to get a copy of this broadcast on CD or get the download or download our mobile app so you can listen on the go and get a copy of Jean’s book,. It’s a can-do guide for parents and caregivers. You will be able to get a lot of great tools. And you may be a little less - oh I don’t know - reserved than Jean, but you will find some great inspiration here and get some great ideas from this book. Resources at focusonthefamily.com/radio or call 800-A-FAMILY.
Jim: You know, Jean, we have a series with Ray Vander Laan, a teacher - biblical teacher,. And here’s the connection, the reason I even mention it. When I went on the tour with him, Jean and I - we were able to do that, it was fantastic, number one.
But he said - and I see it now - there is no wasted words in Scripture. And the Lord was so purposeful in everything that he said. And it makes you stop. I hadn’t thought about it in this way, but with what you’re saying about Jesus making the comment to the disciples, “Hey, don’t keep those kids away from me,” you know, this is the kingdom of God. The way children are behaving around me, this is what the kingdom of God is like because they were doing just this beautiful worship wanting to be with Jesus. I think - do you connect with that?
Jean: Oh, my goodness. Here’s what - one of the verses I love most in the work that I do in the ministry and my life is Psalm chapter 8 verse 2, which says - I’m sure you know - out of the mouths of babes and infants God has ordained praise. Jesus quoted that to the disciples that very day. But listen to this from, which I love, especially using that with children.
Psalm 8:2 says this, nursing infants are gurgling choruses about you and toddlers shout the songs that will drown out enemy talk and silence atheistic babble.
Toddlers shout the songs. When I bumped into that Scripture, I was so arrested. And I said to the Lord, oh, God, I want to be the one who teaches the songs to the toddlers so that they can shout those songs that drown out enemy talk. There is power in the praise of little children because they’re uninhibited and because they don’t yet have so many cares of the world on them so that they are able - with uninhibited, you know, what we said just with abandon, give themselves to the worship of God. And when we say worship, that’s the whole of life. Praise is very specific. I love Psalm 100, which many of us learned in Vacation Bible School, that says enter his gates with thanksgiving - don’t stop there, keep going into his courts with praise. And that word praise, by the way, is tehillah in the Hebrew, which means to sing, to sing with the spirit. There’s great power in the singing of praises because God inhabits the praises of his people. And those praises are the sung praises. And children do not mind singing. They’re not like us grown-ups. We have a problem. I always tell moms and dads, I say unzip your grown-up self.
I know there’s a child inside. Just step on out and let that part of you get connected and be more uninhibited with your children because they want to give praise to God. It’s already in them. Lamentations chapter 3 says God has set eternity in the hearts of everyone, already it is in them. I love that you never have to use apologetics with little children. You don’t have to say, “Now, let us reason together.” But you just tell them this is his name, God, the one who made you, the one who loves you, Jesus is his name. And they go, “Oh, him.”
Jim: Now I get it.
Jean: Now I get it.
Jim: I think the other thing, too, is that I think as we become adults - and I’m speaking to 15-, 17-, 18-year-olds certainly - that’s where pride begins to show up. And when we’re prideful, when that human Achilles heel gets into our heart, we tend not to praise the Lord in the way we might as a child...
Jim: ...as a little child. And that’s so typical.
Hey, I want to turn a bit of a corner here because I’m thinking of the mom listening going, “Well, Jean sounds like this fantastic mother...
...like she does no wrong. And she gets up praising with her kids,” and “Here is breakfast and here’s your eggs.” Okay, I can’t sing like you. I’m not trained. But, um, the point is for that mom that doesn’t feel like she’s Jean, speak to her about those things, overcoming those type of feelings that I can’t be that kind of mom. She can be.
Jean: She can be. Um, I love the fact that God is such a good parent. You know Barbara Johnson, who was a friend of this ministry, was - is a friend of mine, I was involved with Women of Faith for many years, and so she was a dear friend, and she used to say this, “If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on the refrigerator.” And um, I love to think about...
Jim: Oh, man.
Jean: ...I know. I love to think about that and remind myself that God so loves you as a mom.
I was that mother. When I first had children, I was older. I was almost 34 when my first child was born. And I remember the day I stood at the sink going, “What were you thinking?
You gave me a person. I wanted a baby. But you gave me a person. And now I’m responsible for this person for the rest of their life.” You know, just - that’s terrifying. Terrifying!
Jim: Yeah, pretty much.
Jean: Well exactly. And so I remember that sense of the presence of the Lord in my - the way God speaks to me. I remember him saying to me, and it brings tears to my eyes, “Jean, do you know how to be - do you know how to follow Jesus?” I mean, you know, of course you say, “Not very well,” you know. But is it me? I remembered that the Scripture said it is God who is in us, both to will and do his good pleasure.
And this was one of those days where I thought, “I - I have no idea what to do with these children. I’m going to ruin them. And my son, I remember him crying. And I remember my daughter sitting on the floor. And that was the day I have this great memory of me leaning back and loudly yelling in the room, “Lord, Jesus.” And I’m crying, “Help. I do not know what I’m doing.” And both the children shut up. I have this memory. Both of them stopped, looked at me. Big, wide eyes, like that. And I just cried. And I - and then I took my son out of the highchair, put him on the floor, sat down with - and my daughter handed me the wooden spoon. You know, and I said...
John: Because she thought it was coming, huh?
Jean: Oh. That was what she was banging on the pot with. And so she...
Jim: Yeah. Right, there you go.
Jean: And that was a day I remember sitting on the floor and banging the pots. And I remember now thinking that - Sheila Walsh said this one time, I’ll never forget - she said, “Jesus lives close to the floor.” Sometimes we have those floor days...
Jim: I like that.
Jean: ...And I remember being on the floor just sitting with my kids going, “Okay God, I can’t do it, but I know that you can, and you’re able.”
Jim: So in all of that, somehow God takes you on this professional trajectory of being this trained opera singer and the want-to performer to be in front of people conveying excellence and a message of some sort. And then he puts you in front of 1-, 2-, 3-, 4-year-olds. Talk about what God’s done in terms of Miss PattyCake.
Jean: Okay. We’re ready to go there. This is so much fun. Well, um, I love how uniquely creative the Lord is. And I love that He - you know, Paul said this, “I have become all things to all men so that by all means, some may come to faith.” And I’m excited to be part of what God loves to do. And that is that he wants to find creative ways to share the good news that Jesus loves us all and just the good news of the gospel to everyone. So here’s what happened to me. I found myself at home with these small children. And we were living down in Mobile, Alabama, working for Integrity Music - my husband was working there. And, um, they have lots of great singers and songwriters there. And some of the songwriters had come together and put a collection together, this - I’m dating myself - cassette tapes...
Jim: Yeah, right!
Jean: ...Cassette tapes of these, um, songs. And they were called “Lap Songs for Little Ones.” And one of - and I had found them, of course. They had said, “Here’s some songs.” You know, I was singing these songs and playing them. We had the Donut Man and Psalty the Singing Songbook and my now-friend Mary Rice Hopkins, who lives out in California who’s a great singer-songwriter.
But trying to find songs that were age-appropriate, which I think is so important for little children and for all of us. We have to start with the milk of the Word before we move on to the meat. So finding these songs, and one of these songs was called Pattycake Praise, which was an effort to take the nursery rhyme and marry it to the scripture. Psalm 47, verse 1 says, “Clap your hands. Oh, you people, shout up to God with a voice of praise.” That’s the Hallelujah word again. And so Pattycake Praise was written by a couple of songwriters over at Integrity Music.
And so one of those women - her name is Nancy Gordon - she came to me. And she said, “Jean, no one is ever gonna hear these songs for children unless someone sings them.” And I said, “I will sing them!” And she said, “I think that’s a great idea.” And she said, “What - so how do you think we should sing them?” And I said, “Well, what if we come up with an idea for a character? Children love heroes. Children love something bigger than themselves.” I grew up with Captain Kangaroo...
Jean: ...And, you know, all those things and...
Jim: That also dates us.
Jean: Yes, it does. That’s okay.
Jim: You and I are in the same spot.
John: Mr. Green Jeans.
Jean: Mr. Green Jeans. My - my little brother, his very first word was Batman. We were talking about that the other day. Some - there’s something that’s just little children want to - they love costumes and theater. You know, they don’t call it that yet.
But we came up with the idea to have a character, and we called her Miss PattyCake. And she’s a cross between Pippi Longstocking meets the Romper Room lady, if that makes sense to anybody. And she’s a brightly colored, costumed character. And on her dress is a heart and two hands. And this is the idea. We have hands to clap, a heart to love, a voice to sing. And every song gives thanks and praise up to God. And Miss PattyCake always says, “Every day is a Pattycake Praise day.”
Now, that comes from Psalm 118:24, which is one of my favorite verses for children because it says this: “This is the day God has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it.” So there’s the “I will” part, and that’s what Miss PattyCake was born to do.
Jim: And that - I mean, again, that’s so funny what man intends. God has different plans, right?
Jean: Oh, my goodness.
Jim: But you’re doing it with such great enthusiasm. And this wonderful book,, is a wonderful tool! And Jean, you’ve pulled it together. And again, I’ve hope we’ve made the case that you can’t start too early...
Jean: Cannot start too early.
Jim: ...With your young kids to help them better understand how to worship the Lord, how to deploy your heart in that worship, how to use your voice, everything you just said.
We’ve got, um, some great tools for parents here at Focus on the Family, Jean’s book being one of them. Uh, but you can go to our website, call our counseling department. Uh, just tap us. That is why we’re here. That’s why donors fund the ministry is so that you can do the best job you can do parenting your kids in a way that pleases the Lord. And I’m tellin’ you, I’m seeing it now with my later teenagers. It is critically important. And, uh, Jean, you’ve done a great job here.
Jean: Thank you.
John: Well, Jean Thomason has been our guest, and you can get her book at our website. That’s focusonthefamily.com/radio, or give us a call: 800-232-6459. We’d be happy to tell you more about that book and getting a CD or download of today’s broadcast. And also, I should note we have a link online to a great faith-building opportunity for your kids and your whole family. It’s our Adventures in Odyssey Club where we have hundreds of hours from our award-winning radio drama for children, a subscription to our Clubhouse magazine, daily devotions, lots of fun online activities and so much more. All of this at focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Jim: Let me also remind everyone that we’ll have more from our conversation with Jean at the website, including some great questions about finding your purpose as a mom. I mean what mom doesn’t want to do that? And some great ideas for grandparents about the spiritual influence you can have on your little grandchildren.
And finally, I wanna invite you to support Focus on the Family financially. All of these resources we’ve mentioned, they do cost money to produce and to put in the hands of folks. And we often provide them to families who don’t have the means to pay for them. So join us. Partner with us in ministry. We’re relying on your generosity to help, encourage, and support those who are in desperate need.
This summer, thanks to the generosity of some very special friends, we have a matching gift opportunity where any donation you make today will be doubled. That means your gift of 20 becomes 40, 50 becomes a hundred, and so on. So we need to hear from you. Join the support team today.
John: Make that donation at focusonthefamily.com/radio or call 800-A-FAMILY. And when you make a generous donation of any amount today, we’ll send a complimentary copy of Jean’s book,. It’s our thank you gift for your support, and it’s gonna be a great book for yourself, your grandkids, or even your church library.
And coming up tomorrow, we’re going to take a serious look at forgiveness and learning how to forgive even when it seems impossible.
Laurie Coombs: The first thing that I saw was to pray for my enemy. So I began to pray for him. And I - honestly, I began to pray good things for him even though it was completely counterintuitive to everything that I wanted or thought or felt.
End of Teaser
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Jean ThomasonView Bio
Jean Thomason is the live embodiment of the joyful children's character, "Miss PattyCake." The music and character of Miss PattyCake allow Jean to convey biblical truths to kids while helping their parents lay a spiritual foundation. Jean has more than 30 years of experience as a musical performer, worship leader, and conference speaker. Her live family concerts are performed around the globe. Jean and her husband, Chris, reside in Franklin, Tenn. Learn more about Jean by visiting her website, jeanthomason.com.